While early summer mornings find some students catching up on sleep, others are once again hard at work training under the leadership of Zak Smalls.
Smalls’ endurance program Z-Speed enters its 13th year of official existence with a seemingly stronger following than ever. It has grown so popular that it requires the full use of the Stadium Bowl field, which it moved to this year. And, according to Smalls, the group of student athletes this year is one of the more dedicated he has seen.
“This year we have nobody hanging out or sitting out,” Smalls said. “Even the ‘young guns’ (12-year-olds) are hitting it hard. It’s a good group.”
And as athletes from several different schools and sports congregate to Stadium three mornings a week until mid-August, they already are seeing the benefits.
“I feel like I’m already getting faster and I’ve been here two days,” said Jordan Rocco, a senior-to-be at Wilson High School. “Everybody’s working hard and it makes me want to work hard too.”
Rocco and Wilson football teammate Jake Ferris are two of the first-year attenders, contributing to the program’s continual growth since the beginning.
“I had four guys to start out with,” Smalls noted of Z-Speed’s first year in 1998. Smalls added that he once had a chance to move the camp to Seattle under a Nike sponsorship. “I declined so I could keep it here in Tacoma, because this is where I’m from.”
Smalls noted that throughout the camp he preaches intensity on every step you take, and never giving up, something that attendees have seemed to embrace.
“Everyone’s trying to push each other and push ourselves,” Ferris said. “And that’s what you need to win.”
Ferris’ teammate, Devon Phillips, said the camp has trimmed his body and greatly improved his quickness during his five years of attendance. “It’s something you want to go to after you experience it,” said Phillips, who also runs track at Wilson. “There’s just an overall good energy.”
While the physical improvement is important, the mental aspect of the camp is just as important to many.
“It’s not just about speed and endurance and excelling in your sport, it’s also about academics and becoming a better person,” said Smalls’ daughter Hayley, who graduated from Stadium High School and is headed to Washington State University in the fall. “I think it’s one of the best programs around.”
Smalls also employs an experienced field staff that includes long-time assistant Vern Chandler, former Washington State wide receiver and current Tacoma Cobra Brandon Ervin, and recent Wilson graduate Devon Trapps.
“The coaches are pushing me a lot harder, making me work a lot harder, and do a lot of exercises I haven’t heard of before,” said Connor Rupert, a quarterback and senior-to-be for Bellarmine’s football team next year. “It’s a fun experience.”
Many students are also using the camp as a chance to keep in shape and interact with others.
“I hate working out by myself, it’s so boring,” said Karlee Iverson, a sophomore at Pacific Lutheran University who played on the soccer team last season. “Everyone’s really supportive.”
As the summer days wear on and school approaches, Smalls said the approach for the camp changes. “As we get closer to August, things start getting quicker,” Smalls said, pointing out new physical and mental challenges he has waiting for his athletes. “Every day is something different.”
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